by Sheldon Lee Compton

Before the river, my cousin Jeff could make me do anything. He was five years older. His word was a gravitational power. He was terrifying.

We did so many things I would have never done without the threat of an elbow thrown into my nose.

We broke into our school gym's concession stand and left with two garbage bags full of candy and potato chips.

We Xeroxed dollar bills and used them in pop machines all through town.

Once, we used the bathroom in the middle of my history teacher's classroom. We took the box of tissues on his desk for toilet paper.

When I say we you should imagine I'm saying he. I had zero identity.

During warm weather we took our two Beagles to the river behind the library and swam with them. The water always muddied from our swimming and stomping so that if anything lurked beneath, anything that might nip at our shins or feel alive under our feet, was pure mystery.

It was the river, the mystery, my muddy, secret fear, that saved me, though.

The flood of '77 caused the river to leave its banks all throughout town. It made it into the library, it came and went leaving mud two inches thick in the basement of my house. It knocked houses from foundations, forced boil water advisories, and, best of all, took Jeff away.

It was another of those things I wanted nothing to do with when Jeff said we were going to the river. This was four days after the rains let up and all the waterways in the county were still rushing loud and strong, all of them, most of all the river, the light brown color of coffee and milk.

The grass on the banks had been washed flat, tattooed into the ground by the floodwaters, making our usual path too slick to walk. We sat and scooted to the water's edge, Jeff in front, his influence a tether latching onto me so that I felt a sort of out-of-body pull.

And I may have left my body for all I can say.

I may have been floating above the two of us watching my own heart break loose of fear, growing in a matter of seconds into its own rhythm.

I may have been born the second I saw how fast a flood current can snatch away most anything like it's nothing more than a pebble.

I may not have been there at all.

BIO: Sheldon Lee Compton is the author of three books, most recently the novel Brown Bottle (Bottom Dog Press, 2016). His stories can be found in WhiskeyPaper, New World Writing, PANK, Monkeybicycle, decomP, DOGZPLOT, and elsewhere. His work has been cited in Best Small Fictions 2015 and Best Small Fictions 2016.